March 15, 2012 at 8:00 AM ET
Remember how Volkswagen rocketed back into the national consciousness a year or so ago with an ultra-cheap edition of the Jetta, a spacious, comfortable new Passat and a viral video hit with its “The Force” Superbowl commercial featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader?
The company aims to keep that momentum rolling along when it targets the next largest-selling class of cars: compact SUVs. Having already reentered the discussion in the compact and mid-sized sedan markets, compact crossover SUVs like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape will be Volkwagen’s next target.
We got a preview of its next-generation contender in that market with the unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show of the Cross Coupe, which could replace today’s Tiguan compact SUV.
“The next obvious opportunity is the SUV segment that the Tiguan participates in,” said Volkwagen Group of America president and CEO Jonathan Browning. “The Tiguan can definitely grow further.”
How will it do that? “Look at the Cross Coupe,” Browning said. The concept has a stretched hood and a lowered roofline that is a bit reminiscent of the Range Rover Evoque that has wowed shoppers recently, so that bodes well for the future model’s ability to grab attention.
Another matter is how VW will outfit this lower-cost Tiguan successor. The Cross Coupe concept vehicle was equipped with an opulent interior in the best Volkswagen tradition. Recently the cost-cutter Jetta has cheapened the cabin so severely as to earn harsh criticism from reviewers.
Browning explains that as a consequence of the company’s desire for the entry model Jetta to hit a very low price target. The Passat, he points out, was equipped to fall more squarely in the middle of its market rather than at the bottom, and as a result it has a better interior.
“The Tiguan will have the same philosophy of going into the heart of the segment,” Browning said. The idea is to make German engineering accessible to mainstream consumers, while with older VW models like the current Tiguan that might be out of reach.
As proof of his dedication to preserving VW’s engineering credentials, Browning points to his decision to import the hot-rod Golf R to America. The move cheered VW enthusiasts, but more importantly, it underscored the fact that VW can still offer the real German driving experience. “The Golf R represents the best of what Volkswagen does,” he explained. “It is as important as the Beetle and the Jetta,” even though it sells in minuscule volume.
If, through the Cross Coupe, VW can preserve that autobahn-grade driving feel in an affordably priced, excitingly styled compact SUV, it is likely to enjoy sales success and good reviews, a balance it struggled with when it introduced the low-cost Jetta. “The Tiguan is a huge opportunity for the brand,” Browning predicted.